Google Images refreshed; real estate search still seems stale

Google launched a revamp of their Google Images search this week. The service has been a remarkable catalog of the web’s visual information since 2001 and now indexes over 10 billion images.

But as of now, it’s even cooler.

In a nutshell, Google tweaked the display of its image search results, creating a denser tiled layout, instant scrolling of the results pages (very slick) and removed the annoying framed presentation of the source image with a light-box-style hover image.

So whether you’re searching for a city, neighborhood or even a product, searching Google Images gives you a broad, vibrant and instant peek at how the world sees what you’re looking for.

It’s pretty amazing.

But naturally, this got us thinking about real estate search.

It’s time to put away the map

In a guest editorial yesterday over on Property Portal Watch, Niki Scevak from argues that the main reason Google has failed to have much of an impact in the real estate vertical thus far is that its real estate search play has been mistakenly tied to its Maps product.

The map, Scevak asserts, is a poor visual metaphor for showcasing listings. He writes, “Google will never be successful in real estate until they recognize that Maps are a poor cousin to other types of user interface designs for real estate.”

I agree with Niki. Maps provide great context to a search but relative location is not what home buyers are looking for immediately. Location is important, of course, but people are first and foremost interested in the home itself. What it looks like.

Unfortunately, if you perform a real estate search on most portals or real estate brokerage web sites, you are presented with pins dropped on a map and tiny, blurry thumbnails.

Not really ideal.

Who’s going to build the Google Image Search for real estate?

Zillow has done a pretty amazing job on its iPad app. Click on its gallery view and you’ll see a truly unique interface that simulates a stack of photos you can paw through using the iPad’s multi-touch screen.

It’s a novel approach. And as Brian hinted at yesterday, the mobile app arena is a wide-open search sandbox in which to experiment and test new ideas.

But despite mobile’s inherent advantages (multi-touch and location awareness to name just two) I do think we can bring some innovation back to the browser.

Perhaps we can take some cues from the Wine Industry about how to better merchandise product online. I’m thinking it’s time we lead with our best foot forward. Give users what they really want.

Big bold photographs.

Something like this perhaps?

We have the ability today to create truly immersive visual search experiences on the web. But we’re still stuck with search and search results metaphors (list views, map views, etc.) that seem increasingly archaic.

The new Google Images looks great. Real estate search is overdue for a refresh too.